Review: Asura’s Wrath
Buddhist mythology warped through a sci-fi kaleidoscope with an approach reminiscent of Heavy Rain and a story that strongly resembles God of War. That is pretty much Asura's Wrath in one sentence. It's a very interesting concept, but does it stick the landing or will you be left raging?
- Worth The Time?Certainly for the unique experience
- Things LovedThe amazing cinematography, the intriguing and decidedly different visual style, the unique premise, epic boss fights, great classical score to compliment excellent Japanese voice-acting, Asura's ultimate transformation.
- Things HatedLack of gameplay time, terrible lip-syncing, on-rail shooting sections, linear characters, threadbare gameplay, frequent and bothersome loading, the overall feeling that the game doesn't want you there.
- RecommendationThis is a must for any anime fan looking to get an interactive storytelling experience, and anybody who loved Heavy Rain will enjoy this, but don't set the bar too high.
- Name: Asura's Wrath
- Genre: Action
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Nyet
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: CyberConnect2
- Publisher: Capcom
- Price: R499 (Takealot)
- Reviewed On: PS3
The main reason I chose to review Asura’s Wrath is not because I’m a big anime fan but rather because the game looked very different to anything else out right now and thus promised a unique experience. It certainly delivers that but at a significant cost.
Asura’s Wrath is a game steeped in mythology with a great deal of insane action and a protagonist so fuelled by rage that an atomic blast is set off every time he burns his tongue on some rather hot tea. Sounds a lot like God of War, no? Well the game also takes the Heavy Rain route of trying to be an interactive movie of sorts. The difference though is that Asura’s Wrath is actually trying to be a 3-part anime series comprising around 20 episodes.
In fact, CyberConnect 2 (Naruto: Ultimate Ninja Storm) took it so far as to have a slightly varied creative team do each episode and players can get a bit of filler in between each episode which takes the form of a few storyboard/manga style panels to add a little bit to the story.
The story itself is certainly an interesting one and definitely solid enough for any action game but doesn’t quite cut the mustard in a game that is all about the cinematic experience and mimicking an anime series. Asura, the game’s protagonist (Noddy badges to everyone who already figured that one out), is one of the demi-gods who make up the Eight Guardian Generals whose duty it is to keep the dark forces of the Gohma at bay. To give you the bullet points: Asura is summoned by the Emperor after temporarily defeating the Gohma and upon arriving finds that his leader has been slain. He awakes to find himself being framed for the Emperor’s murder and wouldn’t you know it, someone conveniently went out and killed his wife on the same day. His daughter, Mithra, is still alive but has been kidnapped by the other Guardians and in his efforts to rescue her, Asura is cast down to earth where he practically dies.
He awakes 12 millenia later in Naraka which is the Buddhist underworld. He cannot remember who he is but ultimately remembers and discovers that the other 7 Guardian Generals have effectively been raping his daughter for the past 12 thousand years so as to harness her powers as High Priestess. This allows them to ascend to new levels of power as well as new levels of douchebaggery as they now refer to themselves as the Seven Deities. Asura quickly sees that they have become greedy and power hungry and have basically turned the world to shit. He therefore begins his quest for revenge and has to take out every Deity before getting to Deus, the one who masterminded everything in the pursuit of purging the world of evil. Funny how the demi-god with the serious God-complex is named Deus, huh?
That’s the premise and it’s pretty interesting and certainly a nice twist on the original mythology but there’s not much more to it. It’s a lot like Kill Bill in that Asura is out for revenge and must take out each of the six other Deities before he can get to Deus but really that is all that happens and there’s very little else along the way. Also, if you thought AC 2 was crazy with those jumps of several years between sequences then Asura’s Wrath is psychotic because at one point it jumps 500 years forward without even batting an eyelid.
It’s effective enough as a plot but they could have done more with such a unique premise. It doesn’t help that every character has a much depth as a paper cutout nor that Asura himself is basically just a shouting ball of rage who only seems to know about 5 lines with his favourite being “shut up”.
Honestly, Asura is the single angriest character ever and is rivaled only perhaps by his Spartan counterpart, Kratos. That said, anger is the only discerning characteristic you ever pick up on. He is just that empty a character. They could certainly have learned a thing or two about defining an angry protagonist by more than just his anger from God of War.
The story may be lacking in many areas but there’s still a lot of narrative quality. The English voice-acting is nothing special but the Japanese voice-acting is sublime and even if all the characters are shallow as a puddle, you’ll love them for their voices. The lip-syncing is a bit off though no matter what language you’re playing in, although I suspect this is because they did some kind of half ‘n half so that it kinda looks like they’re speaking Japanese and kinda looks like they’re speaking English. Also, the lesser characters such as villagers only have Japanese dialogue and don’t even get subtitles so that’s quite poor where consistency or even just a moderate attention to detail is concerned.
The story is very well told despite being a little empty. A great deal of effort went into producing some great cinematography, the likes of which you rarely ever see in games. Each cinematic is exquisite and since the whole game is basically one extended cutscene, the whole game looks great but more on that later.
Let’s talk about this oddball gameplay malarkey. Basically, it’s like Heavy Rain but with a lot more brawling fight sequences. I really like these types of games because it’s far more engaging when you’re actually interacting with what you’re watching. Where Heavy Rain constantly had the player doing something in the game, Asura’s Wrath takes far too much delight in the spectacle of itself. The game holds the player at distance and really only reels the player in for fight sequences or a few on-rails shooting bits as if the action choreographer quit. When the game does request some QTE action from the player, it’s more just a TE because a stoned sloth would have fast enough reactions to cope with pretty much anything the game throws at it. You also get the feeling that the game couldn’t really care less if you were there or not because often missing a prompt to hit a button doesn’t have any tangible repercussions.
The game seems to prefer excluding the player and only really lets you in to for a few minutes to accomplish your current objective rather than letting you experience the journey there as well. This means that of the 7 or 8 hours you’ll spend with this game, you spend a bit less than half that time actually having any sort of interaction with the game. It is also a title that is far too easy for its own good and so your health will never drop below half. I don’t even know if a death screen exists in Asura’s Wrath and I’m used to seeing them often in most other games. Hell, I’m pretty sure FIFA showed me a death screen once although it may have been the start screen with Rooney’s face all over it.
Anyway, the combat is very simple and mostly relies on mashing the same few buttons as your beat your way through the Divine Army which is controlled by the Seven Deities and the Gohma who take the form of blackened apes, giant tortoises, rhinos, fish, rays and elephants with blood vessels on the outside. As you deal more damage and down more enemies, Asura’s Burst gauge will fill and when full, he will perform a finishing move that basically acts as a means of clearing the area of baddies so that Asura can move forward; much like in those old brawler games where you couldn’t progress until every bad guy on-screen was on the ground.
There are some truly epic boss fights though in a time where boss fights are quickly becoming a forgotten idiosyncrasy of days gone by. Of special mention are when Asura fights Wyzen who eventually grows to be the size of earth itself and attempts to squish Asura with his mountain-sized finger. How’s that for monstrous scale, God of War? There’s also the battle against Asura’s master, Augus. It is simply astounding. I won’t say any more about it but those who have played that demo will be heartbroken to know that you have already experienced two of the best bits that this game has to offer. There are many memorable moments though, not least of which is Augus cock-blocking Asura by punching him in the face and knocking him out cold. Did I mention you fight large golden Buddha toting massive guns on many occasions?
The on-rails shooting sections are okay to start with but remain exactly the same throughout the game and become rather tedious and annoying with the iffy aiming system and occasional sheer chaos of what’s happening on-screen.
As I mentioned earlier, the game is made of twenty or so episodes, split up into 3 acts. Each episode is about 20min long and thus guarantees about 10min of actual playtime. However, each episode break is punctuated by what is certainly unnecessary loading even if the game is running on Unreal 3. This causes a bit of frustration and slows down what is ultimately a very well-paced game. Take away those pesky loads and you’d have a much a smoother flow.
That said, the game flows like honey between loads and blends seamlessly between battle, QTE and cutscene/cinematic. It is actually quite excellent in this respect and the only other game I can think of that does this so seamlessly is Heavy Rain but then it didn’t have epic fight scenes where you take on about twenty enemies at a time.
This game certainly is a visual spectacle. It has been crafted with such intent and semi-hand drawn almost cel-shaded graphics are fantastically different while still being really good.
Asura’s Wrath has this very technological feel to it, right down to Asura’s mech arms and it contrasts really nicely with the ancient Buddhist mythology to produce something truly unique. There’s even a giant rail gun type cannon called the Brahmastra which is fashioned to look like a giant blue Buddha. It’s basically the Death Star in the Dalai Llama’s robes.
Speaking of arms. Asura usually has two and sometimes six but often enough he has none at all and he actually kicks ass (because that’s all he can do) hands-free. That just seemed worth mentioning a long a shout out to anime fans and pretty much everyone that Asura’s ultimate rage transformation is fucking awesome.
Asura’s Wrath is certainly a distinctive and different game. It is certainly memorable enough and culminates in a rather special experience that I doubt I’ll be forgetting any time soon. The problem is the lack of gameplay variety and more specifically the lack of gameplay period. Base on my scarce experience with anime, Asura’s Wrath really does capture the feel of a Japanese animated series in every way.
It’s a great concept that the game has and the approach seems a perfect fit as well but the execution is just lacking. CyberConnect2 made the mistake of thinking that we’d be happy to just sit back for half the game’s duration and that it would be okay if we did the same 3 things over and over when we did get a chance to interact. Players want to interact, that’s what gaming is about so when you’re intentionally shutting the player out because you don’t want them to ruin your little piece of scripted magic then you have most definitely lost the plot.
Is Asura’s Wrath a great experience and one I’ll never forget? Yes, certainly. Is it a great game? No, and most that lies in a poorly realised concept that didn’t really seem to factor the player in until it was too late to give them any meaningful role to play in the game. Heavy Rain had you making the decisions and performing actions and because you felt like you were physically doing these things, it drew you in like no other game or movie can. That is what Asura’s Wrath should have done but is a bit too OCD to give you any real control. You get the ominous feeling that the game would be better off without but the fact that you are actually interacting with it, albeit not as much as you’d like, is what makes it such a special experience.
I certainly enjoyed Asura’s Wrath for the unique experience despite all its flaws but it is simply not worth the price. You can be done with it in a weekend or less and will likely never play it again. It is certainly a memorable and unforgettable experience but there is simply no replay value and if all you’re after is a weekend’s worth of fun and entertainment then Charlie Sheen can get you a lot more for that kind of money.